He served and led Marine commandos for nearly a decade while earning two Bronze Stars for heroism in Afghanistan and in combat against Islamic State fighters in the Middle East.
It was a revered career and selfless service Marine Raider Gunnery Sgt. Scott A. Koppenhafer ultimately paid for with his life.
Koppenhafer was killed Saturday while supporting and advising an Iraqi security forces mission in Ninewah province, Iraq, according to military officials. The Wall Street Journal reported that the military is investigating whether Koppenhafer was struck by Iraqi or U.S. forces.
Marine officials described the fallen 35-year-old Raider as “highly revered."
Koppenhafer was an honor graduate of a Marine special operations school, and he was meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant during his first deployment with the Marine Raiders. Koppenhafer was also selected as the Raider’s 2018 Critical Skills Operator of the Year.
After nearly 14 years of service in the Corps, Koppenhafer boasts an impressive resume of elite schools from sniper, combatant dive to military freefall.
During his 10-year stint with the elite Raider outfit, Koppenhafer was also awarded two Bronze Stars for heroic actions in Afghanistan and for anti-ISIS operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Operation Inherent Resolve, or OIR, is the American led mission to defeat ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria.
Here’s how he earned his Bronze Stars, according to details in award citations obtained by Marine Corps Times.
From August 2012 to March 2013, then-Staff Sgt. Koppenhafer was a Marine Raider element leader engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan “far from other coalition forces,” where he “routinely exposed himself to hostile fire” to engage enemy forces to protect his teammates and innocent civilians, an award citation detailed.
On Oct. 29, 2012, Koppenhafer helped rescue civilians in Afghanistan by directing fires during an intense insurgent ambush.
And on Dec. 4, 2012, Koppenhafer came to the aid of teammates pinned down by attacking Afghan insurgents by exposing himself to intense enemy fire while he maneuvered onto a rooftop. He then engaged the insurgents, allowing his teammates to maneuver to safety.
“His aggressive and bold leadership under fire inspired those around him and was instrumental in defeating enemy forces,” the award citation reads.
Koppenhafer’s second Bronze Star was awarded for heroic actions against ISIS militants in support of OIR. The award citation did not detail if Koppenhafer’s heroic actions occurred in Iraq or Syria.
On Sept. 23, 2017, Koppenhafer was a team chief with 2nd Raider Battalion supporting anti-ISIS operations when his team and partner force came under “heavy enemy resistance” while they were clearing “dense urban terrain," according to the citation.
During the operation, a dust storm swept in degrading the ability for Koppenhafer’s team to provide fires support to partner forces clearing the urban area.
Koppenhafer decided to lead a small group of his team forward to improve visibility and to better support partner forces.
“Throughout the day, he supported his partner force from a series of over-watch positions while enduring enemy machine gun fire, small arms attacks, and an attempted dynamic armored vehicle borne improvised explosive device attack that detonated several hundred meters from his position,” the award citation reads.
Koppenhafer directed sniper and machine gun fire, and coordinated the use of rocket launchers to take out several threats. He did this all while providing accurate sniper from his own rifle.
“His persistent leadership and decisive action empowered partnered forces and enabled them to regain offensive momentum after a series of enemy counterattacks,” the citation reads.
Koppenhafer served as a Marine Raider for nearly 10 years. Before becoming a Raider, he was a machine gunner and a sniper.
Koppenhafer is survived by his wife and two children.
“MARSOC [Marine Forces Special Operations Command] is providing care and support to Gunnery Sergeant Koppenhafer’s family; we urge respect for their privacy as they grieve this incredible loss," Maj. Kristin Tortorici, a MARSOC spokeswoman, said in a command release.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.